Eager to pull the government out of perceived ‘policy paralysis’, Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has stepped in and pushed environment ministry to fast track project clearance. But, the NGOs are also bracing for a fight with the government to protect environment and degradation of natural resources.
The ministry was accused of delaying decision on vital projects and blocking vital infrastructure growth across India. The corporate world echoes the view along with infrastructure ministries such as power, road and coal.
In a swift change from its earlier position, the ministry has agreed to further relax green norms to allow diversion of forestland for project clearance. An additional 25 % of forests, earlier categorised as no go, would be available for diversion for setting up the projects.
A huge relief for industry, government sources say, as around 30-50 new projects would be taken up for consideration. The move will also provide access to some of India’s best sites for natural resources deep inside forests in tribal areas. “We are working on the finer print,” an official said.
That’s not all. The ministry has also agreed that environment clearance for projects will come in 60 days and forest clearance in 180 days after all documents are submitted.
Environment clearance is necessary for all projects above a certain threshold limit. In case the project is coming up in a forest area, forest clearance is also required.
Coal and Power ministries had complained to PMO that the environment ministry takes up to six years to clear the projects, thereby leading to shortage in coal supply and power generation --- two vital components to fillip the economy. “The projects listed on priority would be cleared within the deadline,” an official said.
The agreement came at the two meeting called by principal secretary of Prime Minister Pulak Chatterjee on biz projects in the last fortnight since a group of chief executive officer (CEOs) led by Ratan Tata met the PM and other Central government ministers.
The environment ministry has also listed priority projects for consideration of its Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), mandated to examine each project with respect to its environmental impact. The EAC approves the project with a list of conditions to be met by project proponent.
While the officials of Coal and Power ministry are happy with swift forward movement, the non-government organizations (NGOs) are worried at its adverse impact on forests and environment.
Over 100 NGOs from across the country will be meeting in Delhi this weekend to discuss ways to protect India’s dwindling forest cover and degrading natural resources. A recent analysis of clearances given by environment ministry by Centre for Science and Environment showed that the country saw more clearances than those planned for even during the 11th and 12th five year plans.